National Chicken Council Comment on IATP’s Arsenic Paper

Today’s paper from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy is not a scientific article and means very little. Compounds that include organic arsenic in their makeup are sometimes used to promote good health in poultry flocks. There is no reason to believe that there are any human health hazards from this type of use, which is done under regulations of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.

Contrary to assertions in the New York Times column, chicken production is not a major source of arsenic in the environment. A glance at the map of naturally occurring arsenic in ground water, prepared by the U.S. Geological Survey, shows that arsenic is in fact spread throughout the country. If arsenic is in water, it would surely be in animals who drink water.

The IATP paper ignores the simple fact that elemental arsenic is widely distributed in nature and is found in many food products, regardless of whether arsenic-containing compounds were used in production. By focusing specifically on chicken, IATP makes it clear that it is producing a publicity-oriented document focused on the objective of forcing producers to stop using these safe and effective products. Rather than using a scientific method, IATP clearly decided on its conclusion first and then went out to look for data.

Arsenic is an element that is widely distributed in the Earth’s crust and in rock, soil, water and air, and is taken up by plants and ingested by animals and humans. It occurs in different forms, including organic and inorganic forms. While chemical compounds containing the inorganic form can be toxic, the organic form doesn’t present such problems.

Since arsenic and compounds that contain arsenic are present in soil, many water sources, and many forms of plant life, animals will ingest naturally occurring arsenic through their food and water. It is normal to find low levels in food products, and these levels will vary in different parts of the country. Studies have shown that seafood has the highest levels of naturally occurring arsenic. It can also be found in meat, poultry, cereal products, fruits and vegetables.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets strict limits on arsenic levels in food. Allowable levels in poultry (21 CFR 556.60) are 0.5 parts per million (ppm) in uncooked muscle and 2.0 ppm in liver. In contrast, shrimp has about 40 ppm on average and an FDA limit of 50 ppm, or 100 times that allowed in chicken meat.

Some chicken companies use animal health products that have organic arsenic-containing compounds in their makeup. The type of arsenic used is the organic form, not the inorganic form made infamous in “Arsenic and Old Lace.” FDA-approved arsenic-containing compounds, when used according to label directions, are safe.

The purpose of these products is to prevent colonization of the chickens by organisms called coccidia, whose presence can cause lethargy, lack of growth, illness, or death in untreated flocks. Organic arsenic-containing compounds are approved by the FDA for use in flocks in order to prevent or eliminate these organisms.

FDA, through regulations, sets withdrawal periods in order to ensure that the products are eliminated from the birds’ systems before slaughter. Traces of organic arsenic that are sometimes found in broiler meat are not necessarily related to use of animal health products and could be related to naturally occurring arsenic in food and water ingested by the animals.

FDA says the presence of arsenic at these trace levels is not harmful to human health.

The facts show that compounds containing organic arsenic are used responsibly and safely by poultry producers. Poultry producers using these products to produce healthy birds are contributing to a healthful food supply for consumers in America and around the world.

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